Qld campaign enters home stretch


But for all the planes, billboards, television ads, corflutes, waving party volunteers and just general politicking going into the final week of the campaign, for many Queenslanders, it’s too late.

As of the end of early voting on Friday, 600,486 of Queensland’s 3,360,078 registered voters had already cast their ballots. That meant 17.87 per cent of the voting population was already out of play, and that’s without taking into account the 898,062 issued postal votes (26.73 per cent) that may already be in transit.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk (left) and opposition leader Deb Frecklington are making their final major pitches before the election.Credit:Matt Dennien/Supplied

And while that sizeable portion of the electorate is now out of reach of the parties vying to form government, there is disquiet in both camps that perceptions among the undecided voters could be their biggest enemy.

A Labor source close to the campaign said there was concern people believed Palaszczuk had already won and they would become complacent with their vote.

“This election is not run and done,” the source said.

“We really need to reinforce the message this week that every vote counts.”

On the other side, an LNP insider said it had been hard for Frecklington to compete with Palaszczuk, who has been on the news almost every day providing coronavirus updates.

Some LNP figures are in a reflective mood ahead of the poll.

Some LNP figures are in a reflective mood ahead of the poll.Credit:Lydia Lynch

“We were definitely on track to win at the end of last year but when the pandemic came along it became very hard to engender a mood for change,” they said.

“It has been difficult for us to find points of difference and cut through; you probably notice Deb hardly ever mentions the pandemic.

“It is all jobs, jobs, jobs and the Labor government was losing those jobs for Queensland before COVID came.”

That nervousness extended to the party’s sitting MPs.

One LNP backbencher, speaking on the condition on anonymity, said they thought the party was “choking” in the final stretch of the campaign.

“It was the same story at the 2017 election, it was all smooth sailing and then we got the wobbles,” they said.

“We have none and Buckley’s chance for a majority, in my opinion, but a hung Parliament is a very real possibility.”

The final countdown

This time next week, the election will be run and won, even if it takes a while for that to become clear.

Both camps will need to be in Brisbane on Wednesday and Friday for the two leaders’ debates, the first hosted by Sky News and the second by the Queensland Media Club.

Where they spend the rest of the week will be informative of how they see the campaign playing out.

The LNP launched a massive regional blitz on Saturday on the back of its youth curfew announcement.

While the policy has been condemned by advocates and experts, the announcement has gone down very well on the ground in north Queensland, where people feel action is finally being taken. As a result, the LNP is now more confident about seats such as Thuringowa and Hinchinbrook.

Labor hopes the same policy will help it make gains in the south-east, where it is likely to be seen with far more scepticism, if not open hostility.

A normal election in an abnormal time

Despite the extraordinary circumstances, the 2020 Queensland election campaign has been remarkably conventional.

Elbow bumps have replaced handshakes and babies have been spared the indignity of candidate kisses, but otherwise it has been a normal campaign, with both leaders criss-crossing the state.

After an unusual start deep in Katter country, the Labor campaign has largely trod expected ground with visits to marginals and regional heartlands Rockhampton and Gladstone, along with Maryborough and Keppel, which sit on more shaky ground.

A number of trips south into the LNP’s Gold Coast stronghold are hoped to help shore up Labor’s thin margin in its sole seat of Gaven. Incursions into the blue beyond such as border-hugging Currumbin, which sits on a reduced margin after the February byelection, form part of efforts to help break the LNP’s hold.

North Queensland voters have seen a lot of Annastacia Palaszczuk this campaign.

North Queensland voters have seen a lot of Annastacia Palaszczuk this campaign.Credit:Matt Dennien

The Townsville region — in particular its namesake seat, the most marginal in the state — has been an expected regional focus. A loss here or in Thuringowa or Mundingburra (the Gold Coast’s Gaven, too) would throw hopes of a majority government into disarray if not balanced by other seats swinging red.

Other appearances closer to Brisbane in Caloundra and marginal Pumicestone — both with retiring Liberal National MPs — would suggest Labor thinks it has a chance, or at least hopes to catch the eyes of a few more voters.

With debates planned for Wednesday and Friday of the final week, any further regional visits are likely to be front-loaded. And holding firm to many Brisbane seats, which have seen few appearances from the Premier so far, some focus is likely to shift here.

Despite almost 20 days of campaigning — more if you consider things had been slowly ramping up for weeks and months prior — there is still an energy among the troops, but also a cautious view about the road ahead.

While quickly abandoning her early claim of underdog status, the Premier has since declared the result would be “close” both in public and in conversations with voters along the trail – a view shared by others within the team.

Limited public polling, while putting Labor slightly ahead on a two-party preferred basis, has the primary vote of both majors neck and neck.

Experts have warned the boost in early and postal ballots could throw assumptions around previous preference flows, relied on in public polling, out the window.

Democratic mathematics

To form a majority government the LNP will need to win nine seats off Labor and the crossbench to hit the magic number of 47 seats.

To have a shot at forming a minority government, the LNP needs to win only two seats from Labor as well as Maiwar and Noosa, which are held by the crossbench.

Former Queensland premier Rob Borbidge has predicted the state election will be a tight race.

“I think a lot of seats will come into play that we don’t expect to, and there will be seats that normally come into play that may not,” he said.

Borbidge’s prediction is evident in where both camps visited during the first three weeks of the campaign.

Since the ballot papers were counted at the last electorate, both major parties knew Townsville would be home to the next electoral showdown.

The north Queensland city is home to three election-deciding seats — Mundingburra, Townsville and Thuringowa.

Ms Frecklington has made two visits to Currumbin, the border seat the LNP narrowly won at a byelection earlier this year.

More than most areas, Currumbin voters will be influenced by the coronavirus.

Bruce Hawker, a Labor party campaign veteran and strategist who has worked across elections in Queensland, federally and other states, sees recent pandemic-era victories for incumbents in the Northern Territory, the ACT and New Zealand as a sign, with all widely seen to have managed the crisis well.

“[Palaszczuk] succeeds or fails, really, by how well she’s managed the virus,” he said.

“I would be surprised if she wasn’t rewarded on election day because of that.”

From Hawker’s Sydney base, much of the recent media coverage has been critical of Palaszczuk’s handling of the New South Wales border issue.

But he added: “The thought that crosses my mind every time I see that is: well, that’s not what they’re thinking in Queensland.

“They haven’t had a Ruby Princess, they haven’t had the problems Daniel Andrews in Victoria has had with the breaches of hotel quarantine,” he said.

With most major announcements likely out of the bag by this stage of the pandemic-era campaign, Hawker said both parties would head into the final week looking at the seats where a visit between either leader “may mean the difference” between winning or losing.

Either way, next Sunday will provide some relief to most people involved in this campaign.

Except, of course, for those in the aerial banner industry.

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